9 places to go stargazing in Michigan

Leave the bright lights of Detroit behind to explore Michigan’s pristine wilderness, where ebony skies sparkle with stars and the nebulous northern lights…

Team Wanderlust
27 September 2022
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Leave the bright lights of Detroit behind to explore Michigan’s pristine wilderness, where ebony skies sparkle with stars and the nebulous Northern Lights. Michigan’s natural areas offer outdoor adventures and dazzling experiences of the stellar kind, while arty towns, award-winning wineries and farm-to-fork dining will add a shine to your stay in the Great Lakes State.

1. Rockport State Park Recreation Area

This Michigan rock star is one of six designated Dark Sky Preserves on the shores of Lake Huron, near Alpena: famed for having some of the lowest light pollution in the USA. Covering 4,200 acres, Rockport State Park Recreation Area has mysterious caves and sinkholes, a historic ghost town, and secluded beaches to explore. Nature lovers can hike, bike and canoe, or search for 400-million-year-old fossils, dating from the Devonian Period, in Rockport’s rugged limestone quarry. Camp out and look up after dark, and you’ll discover more ancient treasures twinkling brightly in the night sky: celestial wonders, spiralling high in the Milky Way.

2. Thompson’s Harbour State Park

One of Michigan’s newest Dark Sky Preserves, nearby Thompson’s Harbour State Park is the perfect spot to stop, take a breath, and convene with the heavens. The wildly beautiful park encompasses 5,000 acres of dunes, uplands and marsh fringing Lake Huron, with two rustic cabins providing a stargazing base, and a hub for hiking the six miles of trails. In winter, there’s cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, while the diminutive dwarf lake iris – Michigan’s state wildflower – carpets the forests in spring. And year-round above it all? Some of the clearest, sharpest and most stunningly star-studded skies in America.

3. Negwegon State Park

Bright, blue days and golden sunsets give way to inky skies above Negwegon State Park‘s beautiful sandy beach, in this untouched Dark Sky Preserve on Lake Huron. Protected from light pollution like its neighbouring Alpena parks, Rockport and Thompson, Negwegon draws amateur stargazers and accomplished astronomers to come and contemplate the cosmos. Entry via a sandy trail is safest with a four-wheel-drive, and with no services, wild camping is the way to go. This is Michigan at its most pristine and pure, as Huron’s crystal waters reflect the constellations above, and civilisation fades to black, eclipsed by stars.

4. Headlands International Dark Sky Park

This 24-hour park, west of Mackinaw City in Northwest Lower Michigan, has a couple of guest houses and no camping, but plenty to keep you up all night – including striking Perseid meteor showers in late summer – so bring a blanket and settle in for some star gazing. Headlands International Dark Sky Park takes its Dark Sky designation seriously, with a working observatory (for researchers and park staff only), astronomy talks and tours, dedicated viewing platforms and telescopes staffed by volunteers. By day, there are 600 acres of old-growth forest and five miles of trails to roam, including The Dark Sky Discovery Trail, which explores humankind’s relationship with the cosmos.

5. Dr. T. K. Lawless County Park

East of Cassopolis in Southwest Michigan lies the state’s second International Dark Sky Park, Dr. T. K. Lawless County Park. Designated by the International Dark-Sky Association – which protects the world’s night skies and educates about the adverse effects of artificial light on the environment and health – the park’s 820 acres offers hiking and biking, plus cross-country skiing trails and inner tube sledding in winter. No camping is allowed, but who wants to be under canvas when the Moon, shooting stars and meteor showers are overhead, and magical Lake Michigan stretches out before you, sparkling under them all?

6. Keweenaw Dark Sky Park

The world’s newest International Dark Sky Park, found in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was certified in June 2022, and is a magnet for photographers keen to capture some truly cosmic shots. Keweenaw Dark Sky Park’s distance from large urban centres and its proximity to the dark expanse of Lake Superior creates the ideal conditions for astrophotography, and amateurs can get help with their compositions on a Keweenaw Mountain Lodge workshop. Sitting at a latitude of 47 degrees, close to the Canadian border, the park is also one of the best places in the United States to photograph the Aurora Borealis: the most spectacular light show on Earth.

7. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Taking its name from the stunning, multi-coloured sandstone cliffs that tower up to 200 ft above Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is another U.S. hotspot for seeing the Northern Lights. Aurora action peaks in April, October and November, when ethereal greens and pinks illuminate the horizon. By day, the lakeshore yields year-round outdoor adventures, from hiking the Grand Sable Dunes, to ice climbing on vertiginous frozen waterfalls. There’s plenty of maritime history to explore, too: ships wrecked along Superior’s notorious ‘Graveyard Coast’ can still be seen along the shorelines, or on snorkelling and scuba diving tours, today.

8. Isle Royale National Park

An archipelago of over 400 islands in Lake Superior, Isle Royale National Park is open from mid-April until the end of October, and offers 165 miles of trails and 36 campgrounds under some of the United States’ darkest, but most dazzling, skies. Reached by ferry or seaplane, these remote isles are home to wolves, moose and just one hotel – the Rock Harbor Lodge – so visitors should be self-sufficient and prepared. Wild natural beauty, peace and solitude is the reward, along with nights blessed by the brilliance of the Aurora Borealis, far from the bright lights of the big city.

9. Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Home to wildlife including black bears, beavers and moose, much of the adventure at Tahquamenon Falls State Park is centred around the Upper Falls – one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, which plunges 50 ft into the the Tahquamenon River, and the Lower Falls, with its smaller (but no less beautiful) cascades. More than 35 miles of trails wind through the park’s 50,000 acres of woodlands, and at night, there’s no better place to contemplate – or capture – the Universe, as the Milky Way and Northern Lights shine bright above the old-growth trees and rumbling falls, as they have for millennia.

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